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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Militarizing Politics, Politicizing The Military

Washington, 5 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent decisions to make his new federal districts correspond to military district lines and to appoint generals to head all but two of them open a new era in that country's civil-military relations, one likely to lead to the militarization of politics and the politicization of the military.

Many observers have been struck by the coincidence of the seven federal districts and existing Russian military districts, on the one hand, and by the appointment of generals and former generals to head five of them, on the other. But now one of Moscow's leading military analysts is arguing that this combination points to the transformation of Russian political life.

Writing in the current issue of "Russia Journal," Aleksandr Golts notes that this arrangement gives Putin's appointees access to the "capabilities of the military staffs -- operative links with the armed forces and Moscow, communications possibilities, and armed units 'at hand.'"

Moreover, because most of the new federal district heads are generals, Golts continues, "they are used to governing by decrees that are carried out by subordinate officers without question." There is no reason to think that any of them have experienced a sudden change of heart now that they occupy nominally political positions.

And Golts points out that this reliance on the military and security bodies is transforming the central government in Moscow as well. He argues that the Kremlin does "not intend for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet to be the real Putin administration. It will instead be the Security Council" which is dominated by the military and security agencies.

This approach, Golts suggests, reflects both Putin's obvious belief that "the greatest threat Russia faces is disintegration" and his equally obvious conviction that a "military system of subordination" will solve "automatically" country's problems because both the military and the population will simply follow orders.

Both of these beliefs are problematic, Golts argues. On the one hand, the country's integrity may not be as much at risk as Putin appears to think and its unity may not be promoted by military means. Indeed, Golts implies, the use of the army to impose unity may have just the opposite effect.

And on the other hand, Golts writes, "only people with no real military experience could believe" that the military can be used in this way. Those with such experience, he continues, "know full well" that commanders can "'twist' orders that they do not wish to carry out."

Thus, the introduction of military command methods for political ends may not work as intended.

Moreover, Golts argues, Putin's arrangements are likely to have a negative impact on the chain of command of the Russian military as a whole. "If the armed forces become subordinate to the presidential envoys, not only will the governors have their authority undermined, but so will the heads of the armed forces who have only just been appointed."

And those generals in Moscow are unlikely to be happy with such a "forked" administrative hierarchy, not only because it will weaken their authority but because it could make "the effective management of both civilian and military bodies" difficult or even "impossible."

The heads of Russia's existing regions "cannot fail to understand this," Golts insists, implying that they are likely either to exploit these tensions in the command structure to advance their own ends or alternatively to form alliances with one part of the Russian military against the interests of another.

Either could lead to problems of command and control far more serious than Russia now faces, as well as exacerbating some of the very problems Putin's new arrangements were put in place to overcome.

This use of the military for openly political ends may prompt some commanders to try to play a greater political role than Russian generals have normally done in the past. But that politicization of the military over the longer term may prove to be an even greater problem for Moscow than the militarization of politics Putin appears to be sponsoring now.